A Step-by-Step Plan for Teaching Narrative Writing

July 29, 2018

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teaching narrative writing 7th grade

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“Those who tell the stories rule the world.”  This proverb, attributed to the Hopi Indians, is one I wish I’d known a long time ago, because I would have used it when teaching my students the craft of storytelling. With a well-told story we can help a person see things in an entirely new way. We can forge new relationships and strengthen the ones we already have. We can change a law, inspire a movement, make people care fiercely about things they’d never given a passing thought.

But when we study storytelling with our students, we forget all that. Or at least I did. When my students asked why we read novels and stories, and why we wrote personal narratives and fiction, my defense was pretty lame: I probably said something about the importance of having a shared body of knowledge, or about the enjoyment of losing yourself in a book, or about the benefits of having writing skills in general.

I forgot to talk about the  power of story. I didn’t bother to tell them that the ability to tell a captivating story is one of the things that makes human beings extraordinary. It’s how we connect to each other. It’s something to celebrate, to study, to perfect. If we’re going to talk about how to teach students to write stories, we should start by thinking about why we tell stories at all . If we can pass that on to our students, then we will be going beyond a school assignment; we will be doing something transcendent.

Now. How do we get them to write those stories? I’m going to share the process I used for teaching narrative writing. I used this process with middle school students, but it would work with most age groups.

A Note About Form: Personal Narrative or Short Story?

When teaching narrative writing, many teachers separate personal narratives from short stories. In my own classroom, I tended to avoid having my students write short stories because personal narratives were more accessible. I could usually get students to write about something that really happened, while it was more challenging to get them to make something up from scratch.

In the “real” world of writers, though, the main thing that separates memoir from fiction is labeling: A writer might base a novel heavily on personal experiences, but write it all in third person and change the names of characters to protect the identities of people in real life. Another writer might create a short story in first person that reads like a personal narrative, but is entirely fictional. Just last weekend my husband and I watched the movie Lion and were glued to the screen the whole time, knowing it was based on a true story. James Frey’s book  A Million Little Pieces  sold millions of copies as a memoir but was later found to contain more than a little bit of fiction. Then there are unique books like Curtis Sittenfeld’s brilliant novel American Wife , based heavily on the early life of Laura Bush but written in first person, with fictional names and settings, and labeled as a work of fiction. The line between fact and fiction has always been really, really blurry, but the common thread running through all of it is good storytelling.

With that in mind, the process for teaching narrative writing can be exactly the same for writing personal narratives or short stories; it’s the same skill set. So if you think your students can handle the freedom, you might decide to let them choose personal narrative or fiction for a narrative writing assignment, or simply tell them that whether the story is true doesn’t matter, as long as they are telling a good story and they are not trying to pass off a fictional story as fact.

Here are some examples of what that kind of flexibility could allow:

  • A student might tell a true story from their own experience, but write it as if it were a fiction piece, with fictional characters, in third person.
  • A student might create a completely fictional story, but tell it in first person, which would give it the same feel as a personal narrative.
  • A student might tell a true story that happened to someone else, but write it in first person, as if they were that person. For example, I could write about my grandmother’s experience of getting lost as a child, but I might write it in her voice.

If we aren’t too restrictive about what we call these pieces, and we talk about different possibilities with our students, we can end up with lots of interesting outcomes. Meanwhile, we’re still teaching students the craft of narrative writing.

A Note About Process: Write With Your Students

One of the most powerful techniques I used as a writing teacher was to do my students’ writing assignments with them. I would start my own draft at the same time as they did, composing “live” on the classroom projector, and doing a lot of thinking out loud so they could see all the decisions a writer has to make.

The most helpful parts for them to observe were the early drafting stage, where I just scratched out whatever came to me in messy, run-on sentences, and the revision stage, where I crossed things out, rearranged, and made tons of notes on my writing. I have seen over and over again how witnessing that process can really help to unlock a student’s understanding of how writing actually gets made.

A Narrative Writing Unit Plan

Before I get into these steps, I should note that there is no one right way to teach narrative writing, and plenty of accomplished teachers are doing it differently and getting great results. This just happens to be a process that has worked for me.

Step 1: Show Students That Stories Are Everywhere

Getting our students to tell stories should be easy. They hear and tell stories all the time. But when they actually have to put words on paper, they forget their storytelling abilities: They can’t think of a topic. They omit relevant details, but go on and on about irrelevant ones. Their dialogue is bland. They can’t figure out how to start. They can’t figure out how to end.

So the first step in getting good narrative writing from students is to help them see that they are already telling stories every day . They gather at lockers to talk about that thing that happened over the weekend. They sit at lunch and describe an argument they had with a sibling. Without even thinking about it, they begin sentences with “This one time…” and launch into stories about their earlier childhood experiences. Students are natural storytellers; learning how to do it well on paper is simply a matter of studying good models, then imitating what those writers do.

So start off the unit by getting students to tell their stories. In journal quick-writes, think-pair-shares, or by playing a game like Concentric Circles , prompt them to tell some of their own brief stories: A time they were embarrassed. A time they lost something. A time they didn’t get to do something they really wanted to do. By telling their own short anecdotes, they will grow more comfortable and confident in their storytelling abilities. They will also be generating a list of topic ideas. And by listening to the stories of their classmates, they will be adding onto that list and remembering more of their own stories.

And remember to tell some of your own. Besides being a good way to bond with students, sharing  your stories will help them see more possibilities for the ones they can tell.

Step 2: Study the Structure of a Story

Now that students have a good library of their own personal stories pulled into short-term memory, shift your focus to a more formal study of what a story looks like.

Use a diagram to show students a typical story arc like the one below. Then, using a simple story—like this Coca Cola commercial —fill out the story arc with the components from that story. Once students have seen this story mapped out, have them try it with another one, like a story you’ve read in class, a whole novel, or another short video.

teaching narrative writing 7th grade

Step 3: Introduce the Assignment

Up to this point, students have been immersed in storytelling. Now give them specific instructions for what they are going to do. Share your assignment rubric so they understand the criteria that will be used to evaluate them; it should be ready and transparent right from the beginning of the unit. As always, I recommend using a single point rubric for this.

Step 4: Read Models

Once the parameters of the assignment have been explained, have students read at least one model story, a mentor text that exemplifies the qualities you’re looking for. This should be a story on a topic your students can kind of relate to, something they could see themselves writing. For my narrative writing unit (see the end of this post), I wrote a story called “Frog” about a 13-year-old girl who finally gets to stay home alone, then finds a frog in her house and gets completely freaked out, which basically ruins the fun she was planning for the night.

They will be reading this model as writers, looking at how the author shaped the text for a purpose, so that they can use those same strategies in their own writing. Have them look at your rubric and find places in the model that illustrate the qualities listed in the rubric. Then have them complete a story arc for the model so they can see the underlying structure.

Ideally, your students will have already read lots of different stories to look to as models. If that isn’t the case, this list of narrative texts recommended by Cult of Pedagogy followers on Twitter would be a good place to browse for titles that might be right for your students. Keep in mind that we have not read most of these stories, so be sure to read them first before adopting them for classroom use.

teaching narrative writing 7th grade

Click the image above to view the full list of narrative texts recommended by Cult of Pedagogy followers on Twitter. If you have a suggestion for the list, please email us through our contact page.

Step 5: Story Mapping

At this point, students will need to decide what they are going to write about. If they are stuck for a topic, have them just pick something they can write about, even if it’s not the most captivating story in the world. A skilled writer could tell a great story about deciding what to have for lunch. If they are using the skills of narrative writing, the topic isn’t as important as the execution.

Have students complete a basic story arc for their chosen topic using a diagram like the one below. This will help them make sure that they actually have a story to tell, with an identifiable problem, a sequence of events that build to a climax, and some kind of resolution, where something is different by the end. Again, if you are writing with your students, this would be an important step to model for them with your own story-in-progress.

teaching narrative writing 7th grade

Step 6: Quick Drafts

Now, have students get their chosen story down on paper as quickly as possible: This could be basically a long paragraph that would read almost like a summary, but it would contain all the major parts of the story. Model this step with your own story, so they can see that you are not shooting for perfection in any way. What you want is a working draft, a starting point, something to build on for later, rather than a blank page (or screen) to stare at.

Step 7: Plan the Pacing

Now that the story has been born in raw form, students can begin to shape it. This would be a good time for a lesson on pacing, where students look at how writers expand some moments to create drama and shrink other moments so that the story doesn’t drag. Creating a diagram like the one below forces a writer to decide how much space to devote to all of the events in the story.

teaching narrative writing 7th grade

Before students write a full draft, have them plan out the events in their story with a pacing diagram, a visual representation of how much “space” each part of the story is going to take up.

Step 8: Long Drafts

With a good plan in hand, students can now slow down and write a proper draft, expanding the sections of their story that they plan to really draw out and adding in more of the details that they left out in the quick draft.

Step 9: Workshop

Once students have a decent rough draft—something that has a basic beginning, middle, and end, with some discernible rising action, a climax of some kind, and a resolution, you’re ready to shift into full-on workshop mode. I would do this for at least a week: Start class with a short mini-lesson on some aspect of narrative writing craft, then give students the rest of the period to write, conference with you, and collaborate with their peers. During that time, they should focus some of their attention on applying the skill they learned in the mini-lesson to their drafts, so they will improve a little bit every day.

Topics for mini-lessons can include:

  • How to weave exposition into your story so you don’t give readers an “information dump”
  • How to carefully select dialogue to create good scenes, rather than quoting everything in a conversation
  • How to punctuate and format dialogue so that it imitates the natural flow of a conversation
  • How to describe things using sensory details and figurative language; also,  what  to describe…students too often give lots of irrelevant detail
  • How to choose precise nouns and vivid verbs, use a variety of sentence lengths and structures, and add transitional words, phrases, and features to help the reader follow along
  • How to start, end, and title a story

Step 10: Final Revisions and Edits

As the unit nears its end, students should be shifting away from revision , in which they alter the content of a piece, toward editing , where they make smaller changes to the mechanics of the writing. Make sure students understand the difference between the two: They should not be correcting each other’s spelling and punctuation in the early stages of this process, when the focus should be on shaping a better story.

One of the most effective strategies for revision and editing is to have students read their stories out loud. In the early stages, this will reveal places where information is missing or things get confusing. Later, more read-alouds will help them immediately find missing words, unintentional repetitions, and sentences that just “sound weird.” So get your students to read their work out loud frequently. It also helps to print stories on paper: For some reason, seeing the words in print helps us notice things we didn’t see on the screen.

To get the most from peer review, where students read and comment on each other’s work, more modeling from you is essential: Pull up a sample piece of writing and show students how to give specific feedback that helps, rather than simply writing “good detail” or “needs more detail,” the two comments I saw exchanged most often on students’ peer-reviewed papers.

Step 11: Final Copies and Publication

Once revision and peer review are done, students will hand in their final copies. If you don’t want to get stuck with 100-plus papers to grade, consider using Catlin Tucker’s station rotation model , which keeps all the grading in class. And when you do return stories with your own feedback, try using Kristy Louden’s delayed grade strategy , where students don’t see their final grade until they have read your written feedback.

Beyond the standard hand-in-for-a-grade, consider other ways to have students publish their stories. Here are some options:

  • Stories could be published as individual pages on a collaborative website or blog.
  • Students could create illustrated e-books out of their stories.
  • Students could create a slideshow to accompany their stories and record them as digital storytelling videos. This could be done with a tool like Screencastify or Screencast-O-Matic .

So this is what worked for me. If you’ve struggled to get good stories from your students, try some or all of these techniques next time. I think you’ll find that all of your students have some pretty interesting stories to tell. Helping them tell their stories well is a gift that will serve them for many years after they leave your classroom. ♦

Want this unit ready-made?

If you’re a writing teacher in grades 7-12 and you’d like a classroom-ready unit like the one described above, including slideshow mini-lessons on 14 areas of narrative craft, a sample narrative piece, editable rubrics, and other supplemental materials to guide students through every stage of the process, take a look at my Narrative Writing unit . Just click on the image below and you’ll be taken to a page where you can read more and see a detailed preview of what’s included.

teaching narrative writing 7th grade

What to Read Next

teaching narrative writing 7th grade

Categories: Instruction , Podcast

Tags: English language arts , Grades 6-8 , Grades 9-12 , teaching strategies


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Wow, this is a wonderful guide! If my English teachers had taught this way, I’m sure I would have enjoyed narrative writing instead of dreading it. I’ll be able to use many of these suggestions when writing my blog! BrP

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Lst year I was so discouraged because the short stories looked like the quick drafts described in this article. I thought I had totally failed until I read this and realized I did not fai,l I just needed to complete the process. Thank you!

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I feel like you jumped in my head and connected my thoughts. I appreciate the time you took to stop and look closely at form. I really believe that student-writers should see all dimensions of narrative writing and be able to live in whichever style and voice they want for their work.

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Can’t thank you enough for this. So well curated that one can just follow it blindly and ace at teaching it. Thanks again!

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Great post! I especially liked your comments about reminding kids about the power of storytelling. My favourite podcasts and posts from you are always about how to do things in the classroom and I appreciate the research you do.

On a side note, the ice breakers are really handy. My kids know each other really well (rural community), and can tune out pretty quickly if there is nothing new to learn about their peers, but they like the games (and can remember where we stopped last time weeks later). I’ve started changing them up with ‘life questions’, so the editable version is great!

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I love writing with my students and loved this podcast! A fun extension to this narrative is to challenge students to write another story about the same event, but use the perspective of another “character” from the story. Books like Wonder (R.J. Palacio) and Wanderer (Sharon Creech) can model the concept for students.

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Thank you for your great efforts to reveal the practical writing strategies in layered details. As English is not my first language, I need listen to your podcast and read the text repeatedly so to fully understand. It’s worthy of the time for some great post like yours. I love sharing so I send the link to my English practice group that it can benefit more. I hope I could be able to give you some feedback later on.

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Thank you for helping me get to know better especially the techniques in writing narrative text. Im an English teacher for 5years but have little knowledge on writing. I hope you could feature techniques in writing news and fearute story. God bless and more power!

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Thank you for this! I am very interested in teaching a unit on personal narrative and this was an extremely helpful breakdown. As a current student teacher I am still unsure how to approach breaking down the structures of different genres of writing in a way that is helpful for me students but not too restrictive. The story mapping tools you provided really allowed me to think about this in a new way. Writing is such a powerful way to experience the world and more than anything I want my students to realize its power. Stories are how we make sense of the world and as an English teacher I feel obligated to give my students access to this particular skill.

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The power of story is unfathomable. There’s this NGO in India doing some great work in harnessing the power of storytelling and plots to brighten children’s lives and enlighten them with true knowledge. Check out Katha India here: http://bit.ly/KathaIndia

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Thank you so much for this. I did not go to college to become a writing professor, but due to restructuring in my department, I indeed am! This is a wonderful guide that I will use when teaching the narrative essay. I wonder if you have a similar guide for other modes such as descriptive, process, argument, etc.?

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Hey Melanie, Jenn does have another guide on writing! Check out A Step-by-Step Plan for Teaching Argumentative Writing .

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Hi, I am also wondering if there is a similar guide for descriptive writing in particular?

Hey Melanie, unfortunately Jenn doesn’t currently have a guide for descriptive writing. She’s always working on projects though, so she may get around to writing a unit like this in the future. You can always check her Teachers Pay Teachers page for an up-to-date list of materials she has available. Thanks!

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I want to write about the new character in my area

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That’s great! Let us know if you need any supports during your writing process!

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I absolutely adore this unit plan. I teach freshmen English at a low-income high school and wanted to find something to help my students find their voice. It is not often that I borrow material, but I borrowed and adapted all of it in the order that it is presented! It is cohesive, understandable, and fun. Thank you!!

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So glad to hear this, Nicole!

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Thanks sharing this post. My students often get confused between personal narratives and short stories. Whenever I ask them to write a short story, she share their own experiences and add a bit of fiction in it to make it interesting.

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Thank you! My students have loved this so far. I do have a question as to where the “Frog” story mentioned in Step 4 is. I could really use it! Thanks again.

This is great to hear, Emily! In Step 4, Jenn mentions that she wrote the “Frog” story for her narrative writing unit . Just scroll down the bottom of the post and you’ll see a link to the unit.

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I also cannot find the link to the short story “Frog”– any chance someone can send it or we can repost it?

This story was written for Jenn’s narrative writing unit. You can find a link to this unit in Step 4 or at the bottom of the article. Hope this helps.

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I cannot find the frog story mentioned. Could you please send the link.? Thank you

Hi Michelle,

The Frog story was written for Jenn’s narrative writing unit. There’s a link to this unit in Step 4 and at the bottom of the article.

Debbie- thanks for you reply… but there is no link to the story in step 4 or at the bottom of the page….

Hey Shawn, the frog story is part of Jenn’s narrative writing unit, which is available on her Teachers Pay Teachers site. The link Debbie is referring to at the bottom of this post will take you to her narrative writing unit and you would have to purchase that to gain access to the frog story. I hope this clears things up.

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Thank you so much for this resource! I’m a high school English teacher, and am currently teaching creative writing for the first time. I really do value your blog, podcast, and other resources, so I’m excited to use this unit. I’m a cyber school teacher, so clear, organized layout is important; and I spend a lot of time making sure my content is visually accessible for my students to process. Thanks for creating resources that are easy for us teachers to process and use.

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Do you have a lesson for Informative writing?

Hey Cari, Jenn has another unit on argumentative writing , but doesn’t have one yet on informative writing. She may develop one in the future so check back in sometime.

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I had the same question. Informational writing is so difficult to have a good strong unit in when you have so many different text structures to meet and need text-dependent writing tasks.

Creating an informational writing unit is still on Jenn’s long list of projects to get to, but in the meantime, if you haven’t already, check out When We All Teach Text Structures, Everyone Wins . It might help you out!

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This is a great lesson! It would be helpful to see a finished draft of the frog narrative arc. Students’ greatest challenge is transferring their ideas from the planner to a full draft. To see a full sample of how this arc was transformed into a complete narrative draft would be a powerful learning tool.

Hi Stacey! Jenn goes into more depth with the “Frog” lesson in her narrative writing unit – this is where you can find a sample of what a completed story arc might look. Also included is a draft of the narrative. If interested in checking out the unit and seeing a preview, just scroll down to the bottom of the post and click on the image. Hope this helps!

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Helped me learn for an entrance exam thanks very much

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Is the narrative writing lesson you talk about in https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/narrative-writing/

Also doable for elementary students you think, and if to what levels?

Love your work, Sincerely, Zanyar

Hey Zanyar,

It’s possible the unit would work with 4th and 5th graders, but Jenn definitely wouldn’t recommend going any younger. The main reason for this is that some of the mini-lessons in the unit could be challenging for students who are still concrete thinkers. You’d likely need to do some adjusting and scaffolding which could extend the unit beyond the 3 weeks. Having said that, I taught 1st grade and found the steps of the writing process, as described in the post, to be very similar. Of course learning targets/standards were different, but the process itself can be applied to any grade level (modeling writing, using mentor texts to study how stories work, planning the structure of the story, drafting, elaborating, etc.) Hope this helps!

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This has made my life so much easier. After teaching in different schools systems, from the American, to British to IB, one needs to identify the anchor standards and concepts, that are common between all these systems, to build well balanced thematic units. Just reading these steps gave me the guidance I needed to satisfy both the conceptual framework the schools ask for and the standards-based practice. Thank you Thank you.

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Would this work for teaching a first grader about narrative writing? I am also looking for a great book to use as a model for narrative writing. Veggie Monster is being used by his teacher and he isn’t connecting with this book in the least bit, so it isn’t having a positive impact. My fear is he will associate this with writing and I don’t want a negative association connected to such a beautiful process and experience. Any suggestions would be helpful.

Thank you for any information you can provide!

Although I think the materials in the actual narrative writing unit are really too advanced for a first grader, the general process that’s described in the blog post can still work really well.

I’m sorry your child isn’t connecting with The Night of the Veggie Monster. Try to keep in mind that the main reason this is used as a mentor text is because it models how a small moment story can be told in a big way. It’s filled with all kinds of wonderful text features that impact the meaning of the story – dialogue, description, bold text, speech bubbles, changes in text size, ellipses, zoomed in images, text placement, text shape, etc. All of these things will become mini-lessons throughout the unit. But there are lots of other wonderful mentor texts that your child might enjoy. My suggestion for an early writer, is to look for a small moment text, similar in structure, that zooms in on a problem that a first grader can relate to. In addition to the mentor texts that I found in this article , you might also want to check out Knuffle Bunny, Kitten’s First Full Moon, When Sophie Gets Angry Really Really Angry, and Whistle for Willie. Hope this helps!

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I saw this on Pinterest the other day while searching for examples of narritives units/lessons. I clicked on it because I always click on C.o.P stuff 🙂 And I wasn’t disapointed. I was intrigued by the connection of narratives to humanity–even if a student doesn’t identify as a writer, he/she certainly is human, right? I really liked this. THIS clicked with me.

A few days after I read the P.o.C post, I ventured on to YouTube for more ideas to help guide me with my 8th graders’ narrative writing this coming spring. And there was a TEDx video titled, “The Power of Personal Narrative” by J. Christan Jensen. I immediately remembered the line from the article above that associated storytelling with “power” and how it sets humans apart and if introduced and taught as such, it can be “extraordinary.”

I watched the video and to the suprise of my expectations, it was FANTASTIC. Between Jennifer’s post and the TEDx video ignited within me some major motivation and excitement to begin this unit.

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Thanks for sharing this with us! So glad that Jenn’s post paired with another text gave you some motivation and excitement. I’ll be sure to pass this on to Jenn!

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Thank you very much for this really helpful post! I really love the idea of helping our students understand that storytelling is powerful and then go on to teach them how to harness that power. That is the essence of teaching literature or writing at any level. However, I’m a little worried about telling students that whether a piece of writing is fact or fiction does not matter. It in fact matters a lot precisely because storytelling is powerful. Narratives can shape people’s views and get their emotions involved which would, in turn, motivate them to act on a certain matter, whether for good or for bad. A fictional narrative that is passed as factual could cause a lot of damage in the real world. I believe we should. I can see how helping students focus on writing the story rather than the truth of it all could help refine the needed skills without distractions. Nevertheless, would it not be prudent to teach our students to not just harness the power of storytelling but refrain from misusing it by pushing false narratives as factual? It is true that in reality, memoirs pass as factual while novels do as fictional while the opposite may be true for both cases. I am not too worried about novels passing as fictional. On the other hand, fictional narratives masquerading as factual are disconcerting and part of a phenomenon that needs to be fought against, not enhanced or condoned in education. This is especially true because memoirs are often used by powerful people to write/re-write history. I would really like to hear your opinion on this. Thanks a lot for a great post and a lot of helpful resources!

Thank you so much for this. Jenn and I had a chance to chat and we can see where you’re coming from. Jenn never meant to suggest that a person should pass off a piece of fictional writing as a true story. Good stories can be true, completely fictional, or based on a true story that’s mixed with some fiction – that part doesn’t really matter. However, what does matter is how a student labels their story. We think that could have been stated more clearly in the post , so Jenn decided to add a bit about this at the end of the 3rd paragraph in the section “A Note About Form: Personal Narrative or Short Story?” Thanks again for bringing this to our attention!

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You have no idea how much your page has helped me in so many ways. I am currently in my teaching credential program and there are times that I feel lost due to a lack of experience in the classroom. I’m so glad I came across your page! Thank you for sharing!

Thanks so much for letting us know-this means a whole lot!

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No, we’re sorry. Jenn actually gets this question fairly often. It’s something she considered doing at one point, but because she has so many other projects she’s working on, she’s just not gotten to it.

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I couldn’t find the story

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Hi, Duraiya. The “Frog” story is part of Jenn’s narrative writing unit, which is available on her Teachers Pay Teachers site. The link at the bottom of this post will take you to her narrative writing unit, which you can purchase to gain access to the story. I hope this helps!

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  • Narrative Unit
  • Information Unit
  • Argument Unit

Narrative Writing

The first unit in the Lucy Calkins writing program begins with students thinking back on a event from their own lives and culminates with a realistic fiction piece inspired by the chosen event. Unlike a traditional personal narrative, this unit will require students to develop strong characters, plot, and convey a message or idea to the audience.

teaching narrative writing 7th grade

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How to Teach Narrative Writing

Last Updated: July 6, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Christopher Taylor, PhD . Christopher Taylor is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Austin Community College in Texas. He received his PhD in English Literature and Medieval Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 30,077 times.

Narrative writing is fun to teach, but it can also be a challenge! Whether you need to teach college or grade school students, there are lots of great options for lessons. Start by getting your students familiar with the genre, then use in-class activities to help them practice creating their own narratives. Once your students understand how narratives work, assign a narrative essay for students to demonstrate and hone their skills.

Introducing the Genre

Step 1 Teach that a narrative has characters, conflict, and a solution.

  • A specific point-of-view on the events of the story
  • Vivid details that incorporate all 5 senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste)
  • A reflection on what the experience meant

Step 2 Assign model essays, videos, and podcasts.

  • Have your students read narrative essays, such as "My Indian Education" by Sherman Alexie, "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell, "Learning to Read" by Malcolm X, or "Fish Cheeks" by Amy Tan.
  • Show your students a movie, such as Moana or Frozen and then plot out the structure of the story with your students.
  • Have your students listen to a podcast or radio segment that features a short narrative, such as the Modern Love podcast or NPR's "This I Believe" series.

If you want to show a film but you are short on time, show a short film or sketch comedy clip , such as something from a channel you like on Youtube. Choose something that will grab your students' attention!

Step 3 Discuss models in class to identify the features of narratives.

  • Who are the characters in this story? What are they like? How can you tell?
  • Who is telling the story?
  • What happens to the characters?
  • How do they work towards a solution to the problem?
  • Where and when does the story take place?
  • What is the mood of the story?

Step 4 Map out the plot and characters in model essays.

  • For example, start by looking at the action and characters in the introduction. How does the author introduce the story? The characters?
  • Then, move to the body paragraphs to identify how the story develops. What happens? Who does it happen to? How do the characters respond?
  • Finish your map by looking at the conclusion to the story. How is the conflict resolved? What effect does this resolution have on the characters in the story?

Using In-Class Activities

Step 1 Ask students to contribute a word or sentence to a story.

  • For example, you might start the story by saying “Once,” which another student might follow with “upon,” another with “a,” and another with “time,” and so on.
  • You might also give the story more structure by giving your students a model to follow. For example, you might require them to follow a format, such as this one: "The-adjective-noun-adverb-verb-the-adjective-noun." Post the format where all of the students can follow along as they tell their story.
  • To build a story sentence by sentence, you might start with “Once upon a time, there was a princess named Jezebel.” And then the next student might add, “She was betrothed to a foreign prince, but she did not want to get married.” And another might add, “One her wedding day, she fled the country.”

Step 2 Have students write a paragraph and let their classmates add to it.

  • Allow each student about 7 to 10 minutes to write their paragraph.
  • Return the stories to the student who wrote the opening paragraph so they can see how other people continued their story.
  • Ask students to share how their story progressed after they passed it to their neighbor.

Step 3 Instruct students on showing versus telling in their stories.

  • For example, if the author of a story writes, “Sally was so angry,” then they are telling. However, the author would be showing by writing, “Sally slammed the car door shut and stomped off towards her house. Before she went inside, she turned, shot me a furious look, and shouted, 'I never want to see you again!'”
  • The first example tells readers that Sally is angry, while the second example shows readers that Sally is angry using her actions and words.
  • A great way to practice this concept is to give students a plot point or have them create their own. Then, have the students work on showing the plot point using only dialogue.

Step 4 Provide questions to...

  • What does the character look like? Hair/eye/skin color? Height/weight/age? Clothing? Other distinguishing features?
  • What mannerisms does the person have? Any nervous ticks? How does their voice sound?
  • What is their personality like? Is the person an optimist or pessimist?
  • What are their likes/dislikes? Hobbies? Profession?

Step 5 Use a suspenseful opening line as a writing prompt for students.

  • The diner was empty, except for me, the waitress, the cook, and a lone gunman.
  • I was lost in a strange city with no money, no phone, and no way to contact anyone.
  • The creature disappeared as suddenly and unexpectedly as it had arrived.

Step 6 Have students create an island and write as if they were stranded.

  • Invite students to share what happened on their islands at the end of the 5 days.
  • Display the island drawings and descriptions on the wall of your classroom.

Make it your goal to do 1 activity in class each day ! This will help to ensure that your students are getting lots of exposure to what a narrative is and how it works before they write their own narratives.

Assigning a Narrative Essay

Step 1 Explain the assignment and invite questions.

  • Tell your students if you are using a theme or focus. For example, if you want students to write their narrative on an experience with reading or writing, then you might provide examples, such as the first novel they read and fell in love with, or the time they had to totally rewrite a paper for an English class.
  • Also, include details in the rubric on the required length of the essay, special features you expect to see, and any formatting requirements.

Step 2 Require students to submit a pre-writing activity.

  • Make sure to provide students with feedback on their pre-write activities. Encourage them on what sounds like it has the most potential and steer them away from topics that seem too broad or that would not hold up well as narratives.
  • For example, if a student submits a freewrite in which they discuss wanting to write about all of the English teachers they have ever had, this would be too broad and you would want to encourage them to narrow their topic, such as by writing about 1 teacher only.

Step 3 Encourage students to start drafting early.

  • For example, if the paper is due on April 1st, then students ought to start drafting at least 1 week in advance, or sooner if possible. This will help to ensure that they will have plenty of time to revise their work.

Step 4 Hold an in-class revision session.

  • Does the story seem complete? What else could be added?
  • Is the topic too narrow or too broad? Does the paper maintain its focus or is it disorganized?
  • Are the introduction and conclusion effective? How might they be improved?

For a creative way to showcase your students' stories, have them to transform their essays into a different format and share it with the class! For example, your students could turn their essay into a podcast, short film, or drawing.

Expert Q&A

You might also like.

Teach Spoken English for Beginners

  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/academic_writing/essay_writing/narrative_essays.html
  • ↑ https://www.edutopia.org/article/systematic-approach-teaching-narrative-writing/
  • ↑ https://intensiveintervention.org/sites/default/files/Narrative-Text-Structures-508.pdf
  • ↑ https://lewisu.edu/writingcenter/pdf/narrative-elements-1.pdf
  • ↑ https://cdn.ncte.org/nctefiles/resources/books/sample/00465chap07.pdf
  • ↑ https://www.grammarly.com/blog/narrative-writing/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/revising-drafts/

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Teaching Narrative Writing: Strategies to Help Students Enjoy Writing Stories

Teaching narrative writing can be an incredibly rewarding experience, unlocking the hidden storyteller within each student. But how can you make the process engaging, exciting, and effective for your students? Discover the essential components of narrative writing, explore engaging teaching methods, and learn how to foster a love for writing that will last a lifetime.

Table of Contents

The Basics of Narrative Writing

Narrative writing is the exciting art of storytelling, including personal narratives. It’s a form of writing that shares captivating sequences of events, intriguing characters, and thought-provoking themes. Every personal narrative should have a captivating beginning, exciting middle, and satisfying end, as well as engaging characters and a vivid setting, which teachers can teach students. By understanding these narrative elements and exploring narrative writing examples, you’ll be well-equipped to introduce narrative writing to your students and help them develop their own stories.

The key components of a narrative structure are orientation, complications and events, and resolution. These elements create a captivating story and are essential aspects of teaching narrative writing. Encouraging students to recognize their natural storytelling abilities and create their own story is a great way to introduce this form of writing through a narrative writing unit.

Videos, songs, and other engaging activities can make learning narrative writing fun and exhilarating, enhancing the effectiveness of writing instruction. With narrative writing online, students can access these resources anytime, anywhere.

Plot Development

Plot development is essential for captivating stories and should include a concise beginning, middle, and end. In teaching narrative writing, focus on the key components of a narrative text: orientation, complication, resolution, and ending. One great way to help students understand the structure of a narrative story is by deconstructing a text through a fun activity like cutting it up and sticking it back together. This sorting task can be engaging for middle school students learning narrative writing.

Temporal words play a significant role in narrative writing, as they assist students in arranging their events in an orderly, chronological fashion. A Narrative Plot Structure Diagram or a plot map can provide students with a visual representation of how to craft a captivating narrative that starts with an exciting action. These tools can be invaluable in teaching plot development and helping students create stories that truly capture the reader’s imagination.

Character Creation

Character creation is an exciting opportunity to craft believable, relatable characters with distinct personalities and physical traits that will captivate your readers. Character traits infuse a story with realism, depth, and meaning, creating an unforgettable and captivating experience for the reader. To help your students create characters that come to life, encourage them to use real people as inspiration, craft brief background stories and physical descriptions, and include small details that make their characters unique.

For a short story, it’s recommended to have one main character and a few secondary ones. Teaching character creation involves guiding students in developing their characters and ensuring they have a clear understanding of each character’s traits and distinguishing features. This will help students create engaging and memorable characters that truly bring their stories to life.

Setting the Scene

Setting the scene plays an essential role in helping to create the story’s atmosphere and giving context to the characters and events. Encouraging students to select a suitable setting for their story can help them move onto the exciting task of crafting characters to inhabit their imaginative world. To give students the boost they need to tackle the intimidating blank page when writing, offer them the support they need by providing word banks or other resources to get them started.

For older or more advanced students, exploring and challenging existing story-setting expectations can be an exciting activity. They may find this a great opportunity to push their boundaries and learn something new. By doing so, they can create a unique story with a humorous twist or a more original story that will captivate their readers. Encouraging students to experiment with their story settings can spark creativity and inspire them to think outside the box.

Engaging Teaching Methods for Narrative Writing

To help students develop their narrative writing skills, it’s essential to use engaging teaching methods that spark creativity and interest. Engaging methods can include storytelling games and visual aids, which not only make the writing process enjoyable, but also provide valuable insight into the structure, elements, and techniques used to craft a captivating story. By incorporating these methods into your writing instruction, you’ll provide an interactive and memorable learning experience for your students.

Storytelling games and visual aids are just two examples of engaging methods to teach narrative writing. Other approaches may include using narrative writing prompts, brainstorming sessions, reading mentor texts, and teaching the 5Ws (and 1H). By using a variety of methods, you can help your students develop the skills and confidence they need to become successful narrative writers.

Storytelling Games

Storytelling games are an excellent way to encourage students to think creatively and collaborate on developing stories. One exciting storytelling game is Round Robin Storytelling, where each person gets to contribute to the story. Round Robin Storytelling encourages the development of speaking and listening skills, making it a great addition to narrative writing instruction. To ensure success in Round Robin Storytelling, pay special attention to less confident learners and provide them with the necessary support.

In addition to Round Robin Storytelling, there are many other storytelling games that can be used to engage students in narrative writing. Some examples include story dice, story starters, and collaborative writing activities. By incorporating these games into your lesson plans, you’ll provide a fun and interactive way for students to practice their writing skills and develop their storytelling abilities.

Visual Aids

Visual aids, such as photographs, illustrations, diagrams, charts, graphs, videos, and props, can inspire students and help them visualize their stories. In teaching writing, visual aids can be an invaluable tool in helping students express ideas and comprehend experiences that language may not be able to capture. Visual aids can also help students link their own experiences to the stories they are writing, providing a deeper connection and understanding of the narrative.

To incorporate visual aids into your writing instruction, consider using visual prompts such as pictures, illustrations, or videos to inspire students’ creativity and imagination. You can also use graphic organizers, like story maps or character profiles, to help students plan and organize their narratives. By using visual aids in your lesson plans, you’ll not only engage your students, but also help them develop important skills in visual literacy and storytelling.

Implementing Mentor Texts

Mentor texts are essential for teaching narrative writing, as they provide examples of successful storytelling. These texts can showcase various narrative elements and techniques, helping students understand what makes a great narrative story. To make the most of mentor texts, students should carefully observe how the author crafted the text to serve their purpose, and identify areas in the model that demonstrate the criteria outlined in the rubric.

In addition to providing valuable insight into narrative writing, mentor texts can also serve as a source of inspiration for students. By reading and analyzing mentor texts, students can not only learn from the best but also develop their own unique writing style and voice.

In the following sections, we’ll discuss how to choose the right mentor texts and how to analyze them effectively.

Choosing the Right Mentor Texts

When selecting mentor texts, it is crucial to consider their captivating nature, excellence, pertinence, and capacity to provide vivid illustrations of the writing strategies being taught. Teachers can discover inspiring mentor texts for teaching narrative writing on various websites, such as the Cult of Pedagogy website. By evaluating mentor texts, teachers can select the ones that are most suitable for their students’ age and skill level.

To ensure you select the best mentor texts, consider the following criteria: the text should be engaging, of high quality, relevant to the topic, and provide clear examples of the writing techniques being taught. By choosing mentor texts that meet these criteria, you’ll provide your students with powerful examples of successful storytelling that they can learn from and aspire to emulate in their own writing.

Analyzing Mentor Texts

Analyzing mentor texts is a great way to learn from the best. It involves closely examining the techniques used by the author to create a powerful effect on the reader. By exploring how the author develops the plot, creates characters, and sets the scene, students can gain a better understanding of the essential elements of narrative writing. This can help them hone their own writing skills by learning how to create compelling stories that truly capture the reader’s imagination.

When analyzing a mentor text, students should explore how the author uses language to create a certain mood or atmosphere. They can also examine how the author uses figurative language, sensory details, and vivid verbs to bring the story to life. By engaging in this process, students can not only learn valuable writing techniques, but also develop their analytical skills and critical thinking abilities.

Writing Workshops and Peer Review

Writing workshops and peer review sessions provide opportunities for students to practice their writing skills and receive feedback. These sessions can help students improve their writing, develop their ability to give and receive constructive criticism, and foster a supportive and collaborative learning environment.

By combining writing workshops with peer review, students can benefit from a structured approach to the writing process. This includes pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing, all of which help students write and develop their writing skills and confidence in their abilities.

With this approach, students can become more confident and competent writers, ready to tackle any narrative writing challenge.

Organizing Writing Workshops

Organizing writing workshops involves setting clear objectives, providing guidance, and allowing time for independent writing. To create an ideal writing space, provide a designated area with the necessary supplies, such as notebooks, pens, and other materials, and ensure the space is comfortable and conducive to writing. Schedule the workshop to be engaging and motivating, with topics that are inspiring and relevant to the students.

Planning mini-lessons effectively can significantly contribute to the success of a writing workshop. Select topics that align with the workshop’s goals, prepare materials, and create activities that engage the students in a meaningful way. Ensure that there is ample time for independent writing, offering guidance and support as needed.

By organizing and conducting writing workshops effectively, you can create a nurturing environment where students can develop their writing skills and confidence.

Effective Peer Review Strategies

Effective peer review strategies involve teaching students how to provide constructive feedback and encouraging a supportive environment. By providing clear guidelines for feedback, encouraging constructive criticism, and allowing time for revisions based on feedback, you can foster effective peer review strategies in narrative writing. It is essential to communicate clear objectives, expectations, and criteria for acceptable work, and to provide students with focused tasks or criteria.

To foster an environment of support, offer positive reinforcement, honor student successes, and create a safe space for students to express their ideas. Encourage cooperation and peer review, and guide students on how to give feedback that is both helpful and constructive. By implementing effective peer review strategies, you can create a collaborative and supportive learning environment where students can grow and develop as writers.

Assessing and Providing Feedback on Student Narratives

Assessing and providing feedback on student narratives is crucial for their growth as writers. By carefully examining content, grammar, sentence structure, story cohesion, story grammar, vocabulary, and voice, as well as mechanics such as spelling, capitalization, and punctuation, you can gain a better understanding of their writing and provide valuable feedback. Utilizing a rubric or other assessment tool can help to clearly define expectations and assess writing progress both in the present and over time.

Formative assessment is an invaluable tool for gathering information about student learning and providing feedback to help guide instruction and support student growth. Summative assessment, on the other hand, is an excellent way to evaluate student learning and progress at the end of a unit or course. By using both formative and summative assessments, along with providing helpful and meaningful feedback, you can support your students’ development as writers and help them reach their full potential.

Grading Rubrics

Grading rubrics are powerful sets of guidelines or criteria used to evaluate student work and measure their progress. They include a task description, the outcome being assessed, the characteristics to be rated, levels of mastery/scale, and a description of each characteristic at each level of mastery/scale. By using grading rubrics, you can ensure consistent and fair assessment of students’ work, helping them understand what they need to improve and what they have already mastered.

To create effective grading rubrics, consider the following components: a task description, the outcome to be evaluated, the criteria to be graded, levels of mastery/scale, and a description of each criterion at each level of mastery/scale. By clearly defining expectations and assessment criteria, grading rubrics can help motivate students and provide them with a clear understanding of what is required for success in narrative writing.

Providing Constructive Feedback

Providing constructive feedback involves identifying strengths and areas for improvement, as well as offering specific suggestions for revision. To give constructive feedback, focus on providing both corrective and affirming comments about past behavior. This approach can help students recognize areas that need improvement and motivate them to take action.

To ensure that your feedback is helpful and meaningful, be specific in your comments and provide clear guidance on how students can improve their work. Offer praise and support where appropriate, and encourage students to continue working on their writing skills. By providing constructive feedback, you can help your students grow and develop as writers, ready to tackle any narrative writing challenge.

Encouraging a Love for Writing

Encouraging a love for writing involves creating a supportive environment and celebrating student success. By providing resources, encouragement, and opportunities for students to share their work, you can help foster a love for writing that will last a lifetime.

In the following sections, we’ll explore how to build a supportive writing environment and celebrate student success. Creating a nurturing environment for writing can help unlock students’ creativity, access resources and guidance, and celebrate their successes. By fostering a positive community and recognizing student achievements, you can inspire a love for writing that will stay with your students throughout their academic careers and beyond.

Building a Supportive Writing Environment

To create a supportive writing environment, provide a designated area with the necessary supplies, such as notebooks, pens, and other materials, and ensure the space is comfortable and conducive to writing. Schedule regular writing workshops and activities that engage students in the writing process and provide guidance and feedback as needed. Encourage students to share their work with their peers and offer constructive criticism and support to help them grow as writers.

In addition to providing resources and encouragement, cultivate a positive community by honoring student successes and creating a safe space for students to express their ideas. Encourage cooperation and peer review, and provide opportunities for students to practice giving and receiving feedback. By creating a supportive writing environment, you can help your students develop the skills and confidence they need to become successful narrative writers.

Celebrating Student Success

Celebrating student success can involve showcasing their stories, offering praise, and acknowledging their progress and achievements. Teachers can display student stories in the classroom, share them with other classes for inspiration, or publish them in a school newsletter or website to spread the good news. By recognizing and celebrating student success, you can help foster a love for writing and motivate students to continue honing their skills.

In addition to showcasing student stories, provide verbal feedback, give out awards or certificates, and write letters of recommendation to recognize their accomplishments. Recognize and reward students for their achievements by providing extra credit, offering special privileges, or giving out small gifts or tokens of appreciation to show your gratitude. Celebrating student success will not only inspire a love for writing, but also help students develop the confidence and motivation needed to continue their writing journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the steps to teach narrative writing.

Engage students by exposing them to inspiring narratives and showing them stories are everywhere. Guide them through the structure of a story with in-class activities, like story mapping and reading models.

Assign an essay to demonstrate their knowledge, and plan out how long each step should take.

What are the five steps to narrative writing?

To write a narrative essay , begin by choosing a topic, create an outline, write the essay, revise it, and proofread it before publishing.

What is narrative writing?

Narrative writing tells a story through a main character in a setting, with a problem or event that engages the reader. It is characterized by a plot that follows what happens to this character, making it an interesting and entertaining experience.

The plot should be structured in a way that builds suspense and keeps the reader engaged. It should also have a clear beginning, middle, and end. The characters should be developed and have a clear motivation.

How can storytelling games and visual aids help in teaching narrative writing?

Storytelling games and visual aids can provide an engaging way to spark creativity in students and help them explore ideas in narrative writing. They help to capture experiences that language alone may not be able to convey.

What is the importance of mentor texts in teaching narrative writing?

Mentor texts are invaluable when teaching narrative writing, offering powerful examples of successful storytelling and insight into structure, elements, and techniques used to craft a captivating story.

By studying mentor texts, students can learn how to create a compelling narrative arc, develop characters, and use language to evoke emotion. They can also gain an understanding of how to use dialogue, pacing, and other elements to create a vivid and engaging story.

In conclusion, teaching narrative writing is an exciting and rewarding journey that can help students unleash their creativity and develop valuable writing skills. By understanding the basics of narrative writing, using engaging teaching methods, implementing mentor texts, organizing writing workshops, assessing and providing feedback, and encouraging a love for writing, you can inspire and support your students as they embark on their own storytelling adventures.

Remember, the key to successful narrative writing is to create a supportive environment where students feel empowered to explore their imaginations and share their stories with the world.

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Middle School Narrative Writing Lesson plans and other teaching resources

| Elementary Narrative Writing | |Middle School Narrative Writing| | High School Narrative Writing |

20 Mystical Bridges That Will Take You To Another World Creative writing prompt: "I walked across the bridge and ..." The photographs of real bridges on this page are astonishingly beautiful. However, the page also carries ads that may not be appropriate for the classroom. Consider copying the photographs into a new file for classroom use.

27 Magical Paths Begging To Be Walked Photographs of beautiful paths all over the world, showing a variety of seasons and geography, just waiting to inspire a poem or serve as the setting for a short story. Note: this page carries ads that may not be appropriate for the classroom. Consider copying the photographs into a new file for classroom use.

500 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing Organized by category.

Constructing Narratives: A Unit Plan for Taking Apart and Reconstructing Stories This lesson is designed as a project-based unit plan that will take students through the narrative process from deconstruction to construction. After initial discussion, students will use an interactive story map to deconstruct a short story. Students will use pictures to put together a PowerPoint-based storyboard that other students will use to construct a story. This unit is designed for grades 6-8.

From Object to Story: Writing a Historical Narrative Featuring an Artifact from One's Family History Students share observations about the history of familial artifacts. They then research the history and cultural significance of selected objects to prepare their own historical narratives. Includes short reading as prewriting activity. Designed for grades 7-12.

Hands, Hands, Hands - Writing a Narrative Essay from the Perspective of a Particular Hand The teacher will show pictures of six hands to students (pictures included with other handouts). After a brainstorming session, students will choose one hand that illustrates a particular story from their life. Then students will write a two page narrative essay about this story. These stories will be posted on a class blog to allow for feedback and discussion from classmates. Designed for grades 7-10.

In Search Of Wisdom: An Interview With An Elder Students develop interview questions, interview someone aged 60 or older, and write a narrative using that person's voice. Designed for grades 6-12.

Incorporating Flashbacks in Narrative Text — The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis Students watch a 2:25 video segment that shows an interview with one of the survivors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis who recalls the sinking of the ship and his survival. Students then create an original narrative that utilizes flashback to tell the survivor's story. This lesson is designed for grades 6-12 and includes links to the downloadable video and all support materials.

Little Red Riding Hood Little Red Riding Hood is now part of an elite group of fairy tale crime scene investigators. You remember Humpty Dumpty? He didn't fall. He was pushed. Or so it seemed at first. This idea will work on multiple grade levels.

Meet Comic Book Artist Phil Jimenez This video (4:34) presents writer and comic book artist Phil Jimenez, who has worked for DC and Marvel Comics. Jimenez describes his early inspiration, gives tips for good storytelling, and discusses the unique way comics approach sequential narrative. Links at the site include a student assignment handout to review Jimenez's advice, an assignment on making a visual story about an "everyday adventure," and a teacher handout for reflection prompts and discussion questions about visual storytelling that focus on Common Core State Standards for Writing: Text Types and Purposes, for students in grades 6, 7, and 8.

Memory Preservation--One Relative at a Time After organizing and conducting an interview of a grandparent/senior citizen, students create a slideshow presentation using the information and memorabilia collected at the interview. This lesson plan includes rubric and model. It is designed for 8th grade.

Narrative, Argumentative and Informative Writing About Baseball Students compose a one- or two-paragraph scene in which a valuable signed baseball is destroyed. The narrative task is the first of four prompts here. Common Core Standards indicated. Don't miss the extension activity, a video of Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" Grades 6-12.

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words Students are given a picture that tells a story. They brainstorm words and ideas, then write a story based on what they see. This lesson is designed for grades 6-8.

Prewriting Exercises for Personal Narratives Ten activities for personal narrative writing, grades 7-12.

Using Personal Photographs to Spark Narrative Writing The lesson plan asks students to bring in a photograph that has special meaning for them and to write about it. This will work on multiple grade levels.


teaching narrative writing 7th grade

  • Oct 25, 2022

Personal Narrative Writing in Middle School: Digging Deeper

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

teaching narrative writing 7th grade

For years, I didn't do personal narrative writing in middle school. In fact, I wrote an entire blog post about why I didn't do it . Main reason...it's been done before in many years prior to when those students came to you, especially if teachers prior use writing workshop.

However, I've grown to embrace it again. The biggest reason why is because I think it helps build a classroom community. I decided to go with personal narrative instead of my usual fiction writing in response to reading during the pandemic. I felt, since the kids were remote, this was a good way to get to know each other a little better.

I did peruse Lucy Calkins' Personal Narrative unit for the digital notebook, however, as I went through the unit, I changed a lot.

I like to have the students do a quick narrative based on a person in their lives . The idea of writing about a special moment with a person has been done a lot up until this point so I feel it's an easy way to get a sense of where they are. I have them start with listing moments with an important person. They pick one of those moments to write about.

teaching narrative writing 7th grade

I don't necessarily need an entire story; I just want them to show me what they can do.

Getting Started

If you don't know already, a personal narrative focuses on a small moment , not an entire day, trip, game, etc. In the earlier grades, teachers spend a lot of time on this (think less watermelon, more seed). At this point, I feel that students just need a refresher.

I like to do this through mentor texts . I provide students with actual written student narratives from my past students. (Here are two you can use. These are by actual students, so definitely not perfect examples. Student Narrative #1 and Student Narrative #2 ).

Students go in to highlight specifically the small moment components of the stories. We discuss how these stories are small moments (or not) and they also start analyzing what the stories did well (or not).

I think it is super valuable to see other students' stories to give students perspective of what's expected or what can be improved.

teaching narrative writing 7th grade


Students begin to brainstorm by thinking of a place that is important to them. I tell them to be as specific as possible.

Their idea may be big, but then they make a map of the place. The map is more focused on the moments that happened in the place. They then pick one of those moments in the place and write long about it.

teaching narrative writing 7th grade

Next, I have students write about moments that mattered. For this, I like to do Show and Tell . I tell students a few days before to bring in an item that is important to them. This should symbolize something or someone that is important in their lives. This goes so well! It goes beyond just what the objects are, but also what they can represent.

They use that object to brainstorm ideas within the topics of "first times", "last times", and "moments I learned something" . For example, I showed a picture of my husband and me at my brother's wedding. This was important to me because it was the first time I had left my son with another babysitter. I was dealing with post-partum anxiety. This stemmed lots of ideas: first time I left my son with a babysitter, first time I had an anxiety attack, the LAST time I had an anxiety attack, the first time I changed a diaper, the moment I learned it's important to enjoy small things, etc.

teaching narrative writing 7th grade

I start with students focusing on story structure . I have them look at short stories to do this. I really like "Eleven" and "Fish Cheeks". They are short and sweet and are great models for personal narrative.

They fill out the chart for those stories. We discuss, then they plan their own stories on a story structure chart.

The next day we focus on internal and external . This is something we cover in our unit prior. I do a Deep Study of Character before this and we often get into internal and external characteristics of characters. For writing, they focus on what they could be thinking (internal) in each part of their chart and what they could be doing (external) in each part.

Like everything else, we look at short stories first to see how these mentor authors do the same.

teaching narrative writing 7th grade

Before getting into the actual writing, I spend a day on Show Don't Tell . There are so many things you can do with this, but here's how I do it .

I usually break down each part of the story structure chart by day. So, I will do exposition one day, rising action another, etc. I will start each day with them looking at mentor expositions, etc. Each year, I've done different things. I also share MY PERSONAL NARRATIVE. This is so important; you HAVE to write what the students are expected to write .

A few things I've done:

I would share a Doc with a page or two out of a shared read aloud. I'd give them specific questions that focus on that part of the story map; for example, "how did Jason Reynolds introduce the characters in this chapter?".

I'd have them go back into whatever books they are reading and answer similar questions ("how did the author introduce setting/problem/solution?" "how did the author show feelings/thoughts/actions?").

I always share with them MY exposition, rising action, etc. Sometimes I just read it to them, other times I have them work with partners to look for similar things mentioned in the bullets before this.

teaching narrative writing 7th grade

It's important to look at mentors. I don't just have them go and write the whole story in a day. It's so important to break it up.

There are so many different lessons you can do. I always have to remind myself that you don't have to teach them EVERY thing. I try to keep revision pretty straightforward.

Of course, there is editing; focusing on grammar, punctuation, spelling. I like to tie in anything I do with mentor sentences or vocabulary . It's a good idea to connect it to anything you do for grammar or word study.

Four major areas of revision as per the Lucy Calkins' unit:

Looking at mentor sentences and trying it out with their own writing.

Finding the heart of the story.

Stretching out scenes (finding a moment that can use more detail and stretching it).

Slowing down the problem scene.

I don't always commit to these exactly. I do like to spend time on dialogue and elaboration . I really get into how important it is to punctuate it properly and how to tag it so it shows more description.

I also revisit their showing and not telling slides and have them apply it to their writing.

One of the very last things I do in the revision stage is have them do critique groups . This is a bit different than just them swapping Docs with each other and commenting. It's more of a dialogue.

teaching narrative writing 7th grade

Lastly, they finalize their draft and put it on a Padlet . This is used for lots of things. Guardians are able to see their writing. They can see each other's writing. And I have a spot with ALL of their stories.

Bottom Line

While personal narrative has been done, there is always room to grow. I really feel it depends on the group you have. It's a nice way to start the year to get to know each other. I usually spend about a month on the entire unit.

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  1. 7th grade Narrative Writing

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